Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Altitude Sickness Part 1

Altitude sickness, acute mountain sickness, hypobarothapy, high altitude pulmonary edema, soroche... whatever you want to call it and all of the above. I am afraid I will get it in Peru.

This goldfish has not acclimatized.
I remember learning about acclimation, or acclimatization, in a college biology class. We did an experiment with goldfish where we put them in differing temperatures of water and counted how quickly they flapped their fins. The faster they flapped, the less acclimated they were to the new temperature. I can just imagine myself, on the top of Cusco, flapping my arms in panic as soroche overcomes me.

Why am I so convinced that I will suffer from altitude sickness? Compared to this Superman boyfriend of mine, I've found myself prone to physical and health impairments while traveling... stories for another blog post.

Perhaps I will not fall victim to altitude sickness. There is no way of knowing whether one will get altitude sickness unless actually going to high altitudes. However, it's still something I would like to prepare for as I know we will be spending a decent amount of time at relatively high heights.

Taken from Peru Travel Diary:
Symptoms of soroche include: headaches, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, rapid pulse rate, dizziness... lots of things I can do without on our trip to Peru. I guess the one thing about altitude sickness is that it is easily treated: I can just go back down. As soon as any symptoms appear, I can descend to a lower height and hang out until I acclimatize (preferably spend the night). Once symptoms subside, I can continue up. Here are some other treatments I've read so far.

Treating/Preventing Altitude Sickness at High Altitudes
  • Ascend slowly
  • Increase sleeping elevation (the altitude where you spend the night)
  • Drink a lot of water/fluids
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Eat regular meals high in carbohydrates
  • Take it easy!
A common treatment for soroche in Peru is to chew or make tea out of cocoa leaves. Apparently, the leaves are non addictive. Peru Travel Diary explains, "It is legal to buy this product in Peru, but illegal in most of the neighboring countries. For a very short time, cocoa leaf 'users' will test positive for cocaine. But as long as you are in Peru, there is nothing to worry about." Yeah... not sure how I feel about that.

Another factor I must be mindful of is my anemia since this lowers the oxygen in my blood. At some point before Peru, I'll have to make a visit to the doc. 

From what I've been reading so far, the recommended route is to go to Arequipa first and then Cusco. Some who have gone straight to Cusco, especially those who flew in, felt altitude sickness. Hopefully I'll be ready to tackle Lake Titicaca after spending time in the Cusco region. 

I'm curious, though, as to whether there is anything I can do before the actual trip, like physical training. Since I usually do some sort of training before our trips, I want to see if there are any activities or exercises I can incorporate into my typical pre-trip routine. Part 2 will tell.

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